Sunday, March 12, 2006

2005 Statistics Show Need For More Judges and Appointed Counsel

The Department of Justice published its 2005 Annual Report of EOIR Statistics and it bolsters the need for more immigration judges to deal with a sharp increase in immigration cases along with the dire need for the right to appointed counsel, with a sharp decrease in the number of immigrants who have lawyers during their hearings.

The already abysmal percentage of immigrants who are able to find a lawyer to help them with their cases dropped dramatically in 2005. In 2001-2004, the percentage ranged from 42-48%, with the percentage in 2004 at 45%. In 2005, it dropped steeply down to 35%, which means nearly two-thirds of immigrants facing deportation have to proceed without having any appointed counsel to help them through the thicket of complex immigration laws. (By contrast, the percentage of immigrants who file appeals with the BIA that have lawyers is around 70%.)

In fact, even though the number of cases exploded from 260,000 to 314,000, the number of them who had lawyers to help represent them actually dropped from 118,000 to 110,000! A dire situation has become even worse.

Another area of grave concern is the growing number of pending immigration court cases. Delays in resolving a case impose a heavy burden on immigrants -- it is very costly, very stressful, and essentially puts their entire lives on hold until they can resolve their immigration status. Nobody should have to suffer in limbo, waiting for the government to resolve the immigration case, just because the government has not spent enough money to hire judges to deal with the cases in a timely way.

In Newark, the number of new cases exploded from 5,954 to 8,096 (36% increase) and in Elizabeth, NJ from 1,011 to 1,673 (65% increase!). For Newark, the number of cases completed hardly kept pace, going from 6,577 to 7,314 (just an 11% increase). In other words, in Newark, there were 2,142 cases added to the backlog more than the previous fiscal year but judges cleared only 737 more cases from their dockets than they did the previous fiscal year.

With the retirement of Judge Strasser and Judge Cabrera from Newark, and no new immigration judge appointed nearly a year after Judge Cabrera retired, the statistics for 2006 could be even worse.


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